Gulp. I guess this is how Atticus Finch must have felt. Okay, here goes.
I often talk boldly and proudly about the Internet and technology, suggesting that privacy is dead and no one cares, video gaming is developing a cure for Alzheimer's disease, Facebook is making us happier, and even that Google is replacing the government. I really do, as the tagline of this blog suggests, believe that technology is changing who we are—and in most instances, that's for the better.
But in the case of the Cooks Source magazine debacle, the Internet only seems to amplify who we are in the worst way, how human beings have been for generations. We are prone to mob thinking and behavior, and mobs rarely produce good results.
For those unfamiliar with the situation, I'll summarize quickly:
An article written by blogger Monica Gaudio was reprinted without permission in the October issue of Cooks Source magazine, a small, free, advertiser-funded publication about local food in New England. Gaudio claims that she contacted the editor, Judith Griggs, requesting an apology and a $130 donation to be made to the Columbia School of Journalism. Gaudio, unsatisfied by the email response she received from Griggs, posted an excerpt of that email message on her LiveJournal blog entitled "Illadore's House o Crack."
Internet users reacted swiftly and aggressively, bombarding the Cooks Source Facebook page with insults and creating a series of mocking fake Twitter accounts for both the magazine and Griggs. Sci-fi/fantasy celebrities like Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman joined the chorus against Cooks Source, turning the small viral outbreak into a full-blown meme epidemic.
Within 48 hours of the story's release, digilantes had compiled a document listing over 150 alleged cases of misappropriation, plagiarism and copyright infringement against Cooks Source magazine. Among those were articles taken from authors at NPR and The Food Network, the latter of whom has allegedly begun an investigation into the matter. Some advertisers have dropped the magazine, siding with Gaudio and the Internet mob. At this moment, the Cooks Source Facebook page has over 5,600 "fans" (up from an estimated 110 before the debacle) and by my rudimentary calculations is receiving an average of 40 complaints, insulting jokes and sarcastic comments every minute.
I'll admit right now that I've had a good laugh at the Facebook comments and especially at the YouTube video that portrays Hitler as the editor of Cooks Source magazine. It's all, well, a whole heap of snarky fun!
But, in over 35 different blog posts and articles I read—including from extremely reputable national news organizations like Time, CNN, New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, Mashable and MSNBC—not one single person openly questioned the validity of Gaudio's claim. Nearly a week later, no one has confirmed that the email excerpt from Gaudio's blog post was actually written by Judith Griggs nor, by any open indication, has anyone published the full text of the original email message.
NOTE TO MONICA GAUDIO: We want the whole email and nothing but the email, so help you Chuck Norris. ;-)
[UPDATE, 8 NOVEMBER 10:40 A.M. MST: Ms. Gaudio contacted me, explaining that she does not wish to publish the full message out of respect for the copyright notice at the bottom of the Griggs email and because she doesn't want to "inflame the internet all over again."]
Writing about the phenomena is one thing—I'm doing that right now—but publishing the hearsay email may be irresponsible, especially when Gaudio openly admits that she only published an excerpt of the entire message. Must I remind everyone of Shirley Sherrod, the U.S. Department of Agriculture employee that was fired only four months ago when her comments were excerpted and taken out of context?
Some may even argue that publishing the hearsay email is unethical. At this moment, Judith Griggs may be receiving death threats fueled by a dangerous cocktail of internet disinhibition effect and mob mentality. Must I remind everyone of April Branum, the woman from Orange County California who was ridiculed and threatened by the Internet mob because she did not know she was pregnant until two days before her child's birth? Or how about when digilantes incorrectly attacked Wayne Chiang, the pro-firearm Asian graduate of Virginia Tech who was mistaken for Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman who killed 32 people and then committed suicide in 2007?
Yes, we are outraged at what Griggs may or may not have said to Gaudio, because she was rude, egocentric and because she copied stuff from the Internet. We are outraged because, well, she is just like us. We are outraged because that's what we do—getting hypocritically indignant is as American as apple pie, infringing copyrights, and, ahem, lynching folks that may not deserve it.
The evidence is quickly stacking up against Cooks Source and Griggs. Gaudio's own copyright violation claim may be invalid (U.S. Copyright Law does not protect basic recipes), but digilantes are finding plenty of proof that the magazine may have a long history of copyright infringement. Good work, Internet mob. You've proven that Google's new algorithm is purring like a tiger and America's system of mob justice is as swift as China's. Your work here is done.
But let's not forget why we got riled up in the first place: Our desire for justice to be served. So, let's serve justice—and allow Griggs to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. There's no doubt in my mind that she'll be in one soon.
Now! Let's go do what we Americans do even better than get angry—let's forget. Or, if you're like me and still feeling rowdy, let's go fight for some other important cause, like saving NBC's Community from the same fate as Fox's Arrested Development.
NOTE TO MS. GRIGGS: If you are reading this, please contact at least one major news source to confirm your own safety and substantiate or deny Monica Gaudio's claims. Please do not hurt yourself. Seek law enforcement protection if you feel physically threatened. And please, for Pete's sake, when this all blows over, take a course in copyright law!
Copyright Ron S. Doyle.